Don't be a 'Cardiac Cripple': Exercise can prevent second heart attacks

Posted on: 08/05/2014

By Beverly Miller, Contributing Editor, The Citizen

At one time, just over 20 years ago, having a heart attack might mean your exercising days were over. Patients were told to keep still as much as possible, take stairs slowly, and not to push themselves. In effect, many of them became “cardiac cripples,” retreating from much of the enjoyment of life.

Today, many heart attack patients and others who have had cardiovascular issues are encouraged by their doctors to begin a specialized exercise program known as cardiac rehabilitation approximately one month to six weeks after their “cardiac event.” Moreover, studies show that cardiac rehabilitation reduces the chance of a second cardiac event by more than 25%, whereas NOT exercising can actually weaken your cardiovascular system and slow your recovery.

One reason for this enormous change in follow-up care for cardiac patients is the fact that better treatments and medications have made massive heart attacks more rare in the past 20 years, according to David Lee, MS Ed., Exercise Physiologist, and Donna Carter, RN, MSN, who together manage the Auburn Community Hospital (ACH) Cardiac Rehabilitation Center. “Very often heart attack patients are brought directly to catheterization labs which can minimize damage,” Lee said. “Together with the new medications for cardiovascular issues, we now have many people who survive heart attacks and live active, healthy lives even after cardiac events. Cardiac rehab plays a vital role in recovering from heart problems and avoiding future ones.”

Cardiac rehab, according to Carter, is an exercise and education program to decrease risk for further cardiac events. It is for people who have had a recent cardiac event, including valve replacement, bypass surgery, heart attack, heart transplant, or angioplasty/stents. All participants must be referred by a physician.

The ACH Cardiac Rehab Center is a “safe haven,” Carter said. “Each person is evaluated individually and their exercise levels are determined, by the Exercise Physiologist,” she explained. “We start slow, and progress over time by increasing duration and intensity if the person is without symptoms.” ECG monitoring is also provided to every participant while he/she is exercising.

In addition to exercise, cardiac rehab participants receive education in anatomy of the heart, risk factors, changing behavior, benefits of exercise, stress management, relaxation techniques, nutrition and medications. A typical cardiac rehab session is about an hour, with participants coming three days a week for 12 weeks. When they finish 36 weeks of cardiac rehab, participants are encouraged to have a plan to continue with exercise, either in a gym or at home.

Carter stated, “Cardiac rehab provides a positive, supportive and safe atmosphere to help people get back to normal activities after having a heart event. People surprise themselves with how much they gain and how much better they feel.”

Lee added that the social interaction at the Cardiac Rehab Center is an important part of the program.

“There is a lot of bonding and new friendships are formed,” he said. “There’s a lot of laughing along with the grumbling and groaning.”


For more information, see the Q&A columns featuring cardiac rehab participants throughout this issue of Living Well, or call 255-7388.

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